The NFL surprised me a little yesterday—but pleasantly— by hitting New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his team with something approaching an appropriately tough penalty for cheating in a playoff game, lying about it, obstructing the NFL’s investigations, and then acting as if the whole mess was a joke. The NFL suspended Brady for four games, stripped the Patriots of their first-round draft pick in 2017 and a fourth-round pick as well, and fined the team $1 million for Brady’s “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL” and for “failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.”
Exactly. It wasn’t the infraction alone that made this serious; it was the suggestion, magnified by Brady’s smug attitude, that cheating in an NFL play-off game is no big deal and nothing to be upset or ashamed about. The team also had to be punished, in part because cheating has long been the Patriots’ MO, and the team’s continued success at winning championships, without some negative consequences, is a neon sign advertisement for cheating in games, in school, in business, in life.
Finally, the draft choices were a crucial element, because taking away those really hurt the team. Otherwise it would have been just an affordable fine: Brady doesn’t need the millions he’ll lose by not playing four games, and the Patriots are more than a one-man team; they might still win all four. As for team owner Robert Kraft, he won’t even notice that the million dollars is missing. The draft choices the team will notice. Good.
But there is another injustice here that isn’t getting as much attention as the suspending of New England’s smirking, cheating star. The league’s statement adds that “Patriots owner Robert Kraft advised Commissioner Roger Goodell last week that Patriots employees John Jastremski and James McNally have been indefinitely suspended without pay by the club, effective on May 6th. Neither of these individuals may be reinstated without the prior approval of NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent.” Wait, Kraft has said and still says that his team did nothing wrong, but he’s suspending the two equipment managers without pay? For what, doing nothing? Is he seriously under the delusion that the equipment managers, entirely on their own, decided to illegally influence an NFL play-off game without any direction or encouragement from the coach or the quarterback?
Tom Brady and Kraft should pay the salaries of these two hapless low-level employees until the day they die. What were they supposed to do when the team’s famous star told them to deflate the footballs so he could grip them better in a playoff game being played under atrocious weather conditions? If they defied him, they would lose their jobs. If they did as he asked, they would have a powerful, wealthy ally. Tom Brady put these two men in a dilemma no employee should have to face.
In “The Verdict,” lawyer Paul Newman finds a witness to the medical negligence that made his client a virtual vegetable. She is a former nurse, now working as a teacher, and she reveals that after the doctor applied anesthesia to his now-comatose patient without noting that the admitting form said she had eaten just an hour before, resulting in the patient choking on her own vomit, he forced the admitting nurse to change the “1” to a “9” to hide his negligence. In an emotional speech from the stand, she cries,
“After the operation, when that poor girl she went into a coma, Dr. Towler called me in. He told me that he’d had five difficult deliveries in a row and he was tired… and he never looked at the admittance form. And he told me to change the form. He told me to change the ‘1’ to a ‘9’… or else… or else he said, he said he’d fire me. He said I’d never work again. Who were these men? Who were these men? I wanted to be a nurse!”
According to the NFL’s version of justice, she should have paid a higher price for the cover-up than the doctor or the hospital.
A few other observations:
- In an excellent piece on the ESPN site, Ian O’ Connor says that Brady should come clean and apologize rather than appeal his punishment:
This isn’t Pete Rose gambling on baseball or Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez pumping one illegal drug after another into their bodies for a competitive edge. Brady should tell the public that he thought he was merely driving 63 mph in a 55 mph zone, that he didn’t realize taking some air out of the ball was a big deal, and that he now realizes it is a very big deal.
He should apologize to Kraft for lying to him and for making the owner look and sound like a fool at the Super Bowl. He should apologize to Jastremski and McNally for putting franchise-player pressure on employees in no position to resist it, and for effectively costing them their jobs. And he should apologize to Wells, Goodell, Vincent and, more importantly, to fans everywhere who thought Tom Brady would be among the last quarterbacks to spike the integrity of his sport.
- Ironically, the same day that the Patriots got the bad news, baseball cheat (and lifetime home run leader) Barry Bonds announced that he was suing Major League Baseball for colluding to keep him out of the game in 2007 when he was a free agent. Bonds was then, as he is now, widely acknowledged as a flagrant PED user and an embarrassment to the game, but Bonds’ argument will be that it is inconceivable that teams would have eschewed hiring an unapologetic cheat just because doing so would have rotted their culture and disgusted fans like me. I’m sure that is inconceivable to him.
- Among the ethically clueless, “Everybody does it” is running neck and neck with “It’s not the worst thing” as the favorite rationalization being trotted out to defend Brady. I’m not sure which annoys me more; probably the latter. Cheating is cheating; all cheating is wrong, and undermines any system’s integrity. A competent and trustworthy culture cannot allow any form of cheating to go unpunished—and effective punishment has to both hurt and look like it hurts to outsiders—unless it wants to see more serious cheating take root as “acceptable.”
- The Deflategate scandal continues to serve as a useful integrity and values test. Pay close attention to the athletes and public figures who proclaim that the NFL’s punishment is “ridiculous.” They are all, every one of them, untrustworthy and likely to prove unable to unravel the most basic ethical challenge. Damning statements include “They would have won that game anyway” (“Cheating is OK if you don’t really have to”); “Lots of quarterbacks do that” (“Everybody does it”); and “That’s more games than they suspended the guy who cold-cocked his wife!” (“Apples are the same as oranges!”)
- It would be fascinating to know the correlation between Brady’s bitter-enders and the Democrats who think Hillary’s breach of her promise of transparency regarding foreign donors to her foundation and her violation of her State Department’s own policies regarding e-mail don’t matter.
20 thoughts on “The Unethical Tom Brady Conduct He Isn’t Being Punished For”
The connection that most comes to my mind is from Jean Anouilh’s play Becket (later a movie, starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole). As King Henry II (O’Toole) agonizes over the harm that his former pal turned Archbishop is doing to his kingdom, he utters, “Will no one rid of me of this meddlesome priest?”
Several of his knights take the hint, murder Becket, and Henry is free to claim deep emotional loss for the rest of his life. “Plausible deniability” got its first poster child.
Not for the last time, of course. It was the plumbers’ fault, not Nixon’s. It was Truman’s doctrine in setting up the NSC. It is what Chris Christie is loudly benefiting from in “Bridgegate.” And as you so well point out, it’s the game that Kraft and Brady are playing.
The press falls for it continually, and so do the people, when the only question raised is, “Did O’Toole/Nixon/Christie/Kraft” actually know anything? Who cares? The point is, who hired the guys who did? Who set the tone in the workplace?
Laws have to be crafted with precision, but as you point out, ethics aren’t necessarily the same thing. To create an institutional environment such that employees – people who are well-paid to be loyal, sycophantic and willing to do bad things – will break laws to keep plausible deniability for their employer is unethical.
Christie is a perfect comp for Belichick and Kraft in this case. If Kraft cared about cheating, he wouldn’t have immediately extended the coach’s contract with a fat raise the first time he was caught cheating. That message was clear.
This is exactly, by the way, the argument of those who believe that IRS’s conduct toward the tea party groups was tacitly approved by President Obama.
Well, I get your point – but the layers between Obama and the head of the Cincinnati district operations of the IRS’s Region V in Chicago are a few more than the layers separating Belichick and Kraft, not to mention the absence of prior incident in the former that existed in the latter. Count me still not persuaded on that parallel.
It’s all culture! There’s not that much difference between “Will no one rid of me of this meddlesome priest?” and, “Let me tell you, your President would really be grateful if someone could get those damn tea party crazies off his neck until the election is over…the Sec. of the Treasury told me he was just saying that the other day.”
“There’s not that much difference between…”
Except in one case it’s a half dozen soldiers in the same room “overhearing” someone directly…and in the other it’s literally tens of not hundreds of thousands of employees X levels down.
At some point, the quantitative bleeds over into the qualitative. This is not a digital world where cultural memes get copied losslessly over from one medium to another – there is serious signal-to-noise deterioration. Remember the children’s telephone game?
How far the metaphor stretches is a fair question. I think we agree it should extend to the Patriots, and probably to Nixon and Christie. I think it’s pushing it to blame Abu Ghraib on George W. Bush and the IRS district office on Obama.
The issue is a leader’s responsibility for the perceived culture he presides over. The leader doesn’t have to actually say what he wants done> In businesses, the approach is “do what you have to…you know what I want. I don’t want to know what you do.” And when laws are broken and the loyal subject is caught, the answer is “I never would have told him to violate any laws! We have a policy against that! ” Or “if you are apprehended of captured, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your mission.”
How would the evidence weigh in a real court?
Irrelevant. This isn’t a trial, and Brady’s not being convicted or imprisoned. No, he isn’t “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Bingo! Reasonable doubt. As far as convicted? There is another court called “Public Opinion” and Brady is being drawn and quartered. IMHO his “infraction” was minor and his evasiveness certainly is an issue of note. As far as personal correspondence – usually electronic – he can use the Hillary defense.
I live in the “Belly of The Beast” as Foxboro is just down the road but I am a long time (60 years) NY Football Giants (via NJ) fan who is utterly shocked by the NFL and their decision which I consider overreach to the nth degree.
Kraft is no saint in my book. He played NE against Hartford to get a nice deal. Attempted to get around 10M in recovery funds for a pedestrian overpass. Had some nice backdoor dealings regarding a casino and a few other issues.
I imagine if this was Al Davis you would see a battalion of lawyers banging on Goddell’s door.
You missed the point, I don’t know how. I don’t think there is reasonable doubt about Brady; it would just be hard to prove it to that standard with admissible evidence in a jury trial. Same was true of O.J. He was guilty and the public has every reason to be positive about it, but the trial’s combination of the gloves (a trick) and Furman (an irrelevancy) was enough to compel an acquittal. The court of public opinion isn’t a real court, see…
The “Hillary Defense” is, of course, smoke and mirrors; if the infraction was so minor, why do it?, and also why lie about it? It’s not a minor infraction, because it’s cheating
“More probably than not.” Does that mean doubt? In my book it does. Seems that you may have missed that point and as an attorney would not accusation of guilt use a term such as “No doubt” or “No reasonable doubt?”
As far as cheating just what proof is there that a consistent pattern existed? Was this done for one game? Ten years? And what statistical proof is there that Brady benefited from this? Please supply any football metrics that can demonstrate that inflating or deflating has a desired impact? Fact is there is none. Zip. Nada. Just anecdotal conjecture.
What we do know is that the ONLY time those balls were used were in the first half of the AFC Title Game. That first half saw a 17-7 NE lead. The second half – when the legit balls were used – saw no change in Brady’s performance and he actually improved. Brady’s only INT was with a “doctored ball.” Did the “ball” influence the game? No….the Colts were handed their head on a platter that Blount carried.
Now if you wish to frolic down the path of just plain dumb PR on addressing the situation then Brady becomes a poster child for that. If he had just made an innocuous “I like footballs a certain way and didn’t realize the legalities involved.” That would have done it. Minor fine and a slap on the wrist. How many times do we see this attempted stonewalling blow-up?
As a Giants fan I am amazed I am actually providing some type of defense for this Derek Jeter smirk alike. LOL!
1. “LOL” is banned here, and I’m not kidding. Everyone gets one warning. This is yours.
2.“More probably than not.” Does that mean doubt? In my book it does. Seems that you may have missed that point and as an attorney would not accusation of guilt use a term such as “No doubt” or “No reasonable doubt?”
What is it about “This isn’t a criminal trial” is so hard for you to understand?
3. “As far as cheating just what proof is there that a consistent pattern existed?”
Once is all it takes. However, as the earlier instance with Belichick illicitly videotaping another team’s practice, the team is a repeat offender. Two suggest a pattern. Honest teams don’t cheat at all.
4. “Was this done for one game? Ten years?”
Doesn’t matter. It was one play-off game. But any time an instance of cheating occurs, the rebuttable presumption is raised that there were other instances that were not detected. Typically cheaters keep cheating until they are caught. Do you believe the steroid cheats who say, “Your test just caught me the one time I tried steroids?”
5. “And what statistical proof is there that Brady benefited from this?”
What??? That one’s easy–and a silly question. He benefits by his team winning the game. He benefits by getting fame and attention for throwing completions. He gains by going to the Super Bowl. He benefits by not losing.
6. Please supply any football metrics that can demonstrate that inflating or deflating has a desired impact?
First, lots of other sources have covered that, and its not my job. Do your own research. Second, all that matters is that the NFL said not to do it because it believes there is an advantage, and Brady did it because he believes it too. It doesn’t matter if cheating works or not..
You apparently don’t understand the concept of “cheating,” as well as the concept of ethics vs. law. You do understand the concept of rationalizing, because that’s what all of these excuses are.
So you assume…and I do mean assume…..that Brady has a consistent pattern of cheating by doctoring the ball. A presumption? Naturally it is all speculative on your part. Provide something besides “not detected.” Until that happens it was ONE game.
Do you own research is simply a way of being evasive and not supplying information. Fact is there is no metrics. There is NO evidence that the ball in any way helped or hindered Brady. The only “evidence” is his personal preference and first/second half performance dispelled any advantage.
Where exactly did I say he was not “cheating?” You apparently do not understand the concept of placing words that were not spoken. As I stated I consider his infraction “minor.” Since I do not go to the extremes of some that is translated into condoning cheating? A rather dubious stretch.
How would you classify all the other nonsense that teams do from piped in noise to bounties on players. Or the fact that Belichick (among others) practice some interesting electronic eavesdropping on the sidelines. But, again, that is all speculative – like Red turning up the heat in the old Boston Garden.
Thank you for this, right on point. Tommy B. owes those he persuaded to cheat for him; he should have faced a lifetime ban.
They were supposed to not deflate the footballs.
I am sure you have heard of the Nuremberg defense.
If they had been told to shoot Jews, that would be a good point. I doubt the equipment guys had any idea what the significance of the order from Brady was.
The envelopment managers were fully compliant in this mess. They are suppose to handle the equipment and ensure it is up to game(league) standards. Did Brady request balls a certain way? Probably.
As I stated before Brady should have merely said at the outbreak that he likes the balls a certain way and was unaware of breaking any rules. It would have been a big yawn.
Sounds like Edward Everett Horton reading the end of a “Fractured Fairytale” on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show: “And so they threw the poor equipment manager guys under the bus. The End.”
Reminds me of a general contractor friend and client whose daughter wanted to get an MBA. He said, ‘I can tell her everything she needs to know about business in two words: “greed” and “manipulation.”‘
Brady won….NFL – nuthin’ Say goodnight, Roger. Lights out. NFL needs Barney Fife and Inspector Clouseau as upgrades.